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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Rare 'super blue blood moon' to be visible in UAE next week 

Three unusual lunar events will occur simultaneously

A lunar eclipse above Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi on December 10, 2017. Satish Kumar / The National.
A lunar eclipse above Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi on December 10, 2017. Satish Kumar / The National.

Forget singular rare lunar events - the UAE will soon bear witness to a remarkable night sky trifecta.

On January 31, a "super blue blood moon" will be visible across the country's skies, comprising a total lunar eclipse, a super moon, and a blue moon all at once.

And, luckily for all the non-astronomers out there, you won't need any specialist equipment, either because the phenomenon will be visible to the naked eye.

Confused? You're probably not the only one. Let us break it down:

A super moon is a full moon that appears larger than usual, because it's at its closest distance to Earth in its elliptic orbit. Of the dozen or so new moons that occur each year, two or three of these will become super moons.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly behind the Earth - into its shadow - and can only happen when the sun, Earth and moon are perfectly aligned, with the Earth in the middle. The last partial eclipse in the Emirates was in August.

This is not to be confused with a solar eclipse, which is when the moon is in the middle, blocking the sun.

As the moon takes its place in the Earth's shadow, it will take on a reddish hue - which is where the blood moon comes in.

A blue moon, although the subject of a popular idiom you've likely heard from your mother on the rarity of an event, is arguably the most common occurrence. Its two definitions are used almost interchangeably - as the third full moon in a season that has four full moons, or the second full moon in a calendar month - and it has absolutely no correlation to the colour of the moon.

So, in short: all of these things happening at once is rather a big deal.

Where and when to watch

The optimum viewing time in Dubai will be 6.04pm, when the moon is close to the horizon, said Dubai Astronomy Group chief executive Hasan Al Hariri. The ideal time in Abu Dhabi will be two minutes later at 6.06pm.

Although it will be clearly visible to the naked eye, he recommended finding a high point, or an unobstructed view to the east north-east for the best view. Dubai Astronomy Group was also organising a paid viewing event at the Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre.

However, you'll have to get in position fairly quickly.

You'll only have three minutes to take in the total lunar eclipse, with it ending at 6.07pm. However, you'll have a further hour and four minutes to view the partial eclipse, which will last until 7.11pm, as the moon comes out of Earth's shadow.

While news outlets have been circulating the news that this will be the first such event in 150 years - this is true only for America, not for those in the rest of the world.

The last time this part of the world was privy to a 'super blue blood moon' was on December 30, 1982.

Regardless, it's a rare event. Once in a (super) blue (blood) moon, some might say.